Ruling

14301-22 Clews v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      6th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Summary of Complaint

1. Helen Clews complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Culture chief's ex-lover threw wine in her face”, published on 17 December 2022.

2. The article was a court report which reported on  a court case involving the complainant’s ex-partner. The article reported that the  “ex-girlfriend of a senior adviser to Britain’s internationally renowned cultural body has been fined after throwing a glass of white wine in her former lover’s face. [Named ex-partner] attacked [the complainant], an immigration consultant for the British Council for 30 years, when they became embroiled in a drunken argument after going out for a pub meal.”

3. The article further reported that “police were called by a friend of the couple, who witnessed [ex-partner] twice hurl wine at 54-year-old [complainant] during the bust-up at their £300,000 barn conversion” and that “[The complainant], a mother of two and a former senior special constable who has given speeches in the House of Lords, subsequently spoke to officers while pub head chef [ex-partner] was detained.” It described [ex-partner] as a “licensee” at a named pub.

4. It said the complainant “had not supported the prosecution but it went ahead because of the evidence from the friend, who witnessed the women arguing during the meal on September 15”. It went on to report that the prosecutor had said: “The three returned to the complainant’s property. The defendant appeared intoxicated and an argument started.” The article also included an image of the complainant with her ex-partner.

5. The article also appeared online, on The Mail+, in substantially the same format.

6. The article also appeared online, on Dailymail.co.uk, under the headline, "Ex-girlfriend of top British Council adviser is fined £200 after hurling a glass of white wine in her ex-lover's face following furious pub dinner row". This version of the article included two images of the complainant pictured with her ex-partner. One of the images showed the complainant drinking alcohol.

7. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the article reported that the argument had happened during the pub meal and therefore implied she had “caused a scene” in public. She said that no argument had happened at a pub nor had there been a public scene. She said that she had been out for a meal with her two friends, after which she returned home with them to find her partner drunk; this was when the argument took place.  She also said that using an image of her drinking in the online version of the article implied she was drunk during the incident, which was “morally wrong”.

8. The complainant said that the article had also inaccurately described the wine which had been thrown on her as “white wine”, however it had been red. She said also said that the home was not worth £300,000 as stated in the article, but £410,000.

9. The complainant also said the article was sensationalist in breach of Clause 1, as it had used terms such as “ex-lover”, “lover’s tiff” “bust up” and “toxic” to describe her same-sex relationship and an incident about domestic abuse.

10. She also said that the article had included details about her job, and that she was a “mother of two” which she did not believe was relevant to the incident nor had been heard at court. However, the complainant did acknowledge she had not been present at court. She further believed the article was biased against her, as it implied a British Council member of staff was involved in a drunken argument.

11. She further said that the article was contradictory in reporting her ex-partner’s job. She said her ex-partner was not the licensee at the pub named in the article, and was instead a chef.

12. She said that the publication had never approached her for comment despite six days having passed between the court proceedings and the article’s publication.

13. The complainant also believed that the article had breached Clause 2, as she said the photographs used in the article had not been provided by her nor her friends or family. She said that her social media accounts were private and not accessible to people other than her friends and followers.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the article was based on agency copy – which it provided during the IPSO investigation – which was written by a reporter who attended the hearing. It further provided the reporter’s contemporaneous notes to show that care had been taken over the accuracy of the article. It said the agency copy showed that the prosecutor had told the court that, prior to the attack, the complainant and her ex-partner had been in a pub together arguing. It said that, while the prosecutor may have been mistaken, this had been heard in court. The publication further said that the complainant had not attended court and was therefore not in a position to dispute that this had been said. It also said that the reference to white wine and the £300,000 home could be found in the agency copy.

15. The publication further said that where the argument had taken place was not significant to the main point of the article – that the complainant was attacked by her partner at home after an argument.

16. The publication said that concerns that the article was biased and sensationalist did not engage the Code, and that the complainant had provided no explanation of why the allegedly sensationalist and biased parts of the article were inaccurate.

17. In addition, the publication said that there was no suggestion in the article that the complainant was drunk, and that there is no requirement under the Code to approach the subject of articles for comment prior to publication. In this case, it said there was no need for the publication to approach the complainant for the article to be an accurate report of court proceedings; the complainant’s position did not alter what had been heard in court, particularly as she had not been present during court proceedings.

18. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said the reporter confirmed that all of the images had come from the complainant’s open Facebook account, which were not protected by any privacy settings. It provided screenshots to support its position that the images were publicly available on the day the reporter obtained them; these screenshots showed the complainant with her ex-partner as well as her drinking alcohol – the same pictures which were included in the article.  They also included the date on which the screenshots were taken – which was prior to the article’s publication – as well as a small globe next to the complainant’s profile name, indicating that the profile was not restricted.

19. It said that, as these images were in the public domain, the complainant did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy over them. It also stated that the images did not reveal anything private about the complainant, but simply depicted her appearance.

20. While the publication did not accept that the article breached the Code, as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to amend the Daily Mail online version of the headline to “Ex-girlfriend of top British Council advisor is fined £200 after hurling a glass of white wine in her ex-lover’s face”.

21. The complainant said that her Facebook was on “lockdown” and that only her profile pictures were available. She said she had asked a neighbour who was not a Facebook friend to check her account and they had confirmed they could only see her profile pictures. The complainant further provided a screenshot of her privacy settings relating to her Facebook stories which said just “friends” could access these. The complainant speculated that the images may have been obtained from someone else’s Facebook profile. 

Relevant Clause Provisions 

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Findings of the Committee

22. The Committee was sorry to learn of the distress caused by the article and the incident it described.

23. Turning to the alleged breaches of the Code, the Committee first noted that the article had reported that: the complainant and her ex-partner had “became embroiled in a drunken argument after going out for a pub meal”; “[p]olice were called by a friend of the couple, who witnessed [ex-partner] twice hurl wine at 54-year-old Miss Clews during the bust-up at their £300,000 barn conversion”; and that the friend “witnessed the women arguing during the meal on September 15”. The Committee noted that the article contained contradictory information about where the initial argument took place; however, it had accurately reported that the wine-throwing incident had occurred at their home. The Committee further noted that the article had not claimed the complainant had acted in an anti-social way in public and that both the headline and the text of the article made clear she was the victim and it was her ex-partner who had received the fine.

24. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the partner had not attended the pub with her and her friends, and that the argument had started when she arrived home. The publication said that the version of events described in the article was supported by the reporter’s contemporaneous court notes – and that this was what had been heard in court. The Committee noted that the complainant was not in a position to dispute what was heard in court, as she had not been present during proceedings, and that the publication had shown it had taken care by providing the reporter’s court notes.

25. While it was a matter of fact that the publication had published contradictory information within the report regarding where the argument began, on balance the Committee did not consider that this discrepancy rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading, where the article accurately reported the common-assault charge against the complainant’s ex-partner,  the specific incident that this related to (the wine having been thrown in the complainant’s face), and the location where this had occurred. There was no breach of Clause 1.

26. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concern that an image included with the online version of the article implied she was drunk during the argument, as she was pictured with alcohol. Newspapers are entitled to select which information or images they publish, provided they do not breach the Code. In this case, publishing this image did not render the article significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted; it simply showed her likeness, and the article made no claim that she was had been drinking during the incident. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Further to this, the Committee did not consider the inclusion of the complainant’s job or the fact that she was a “mother of two” breached Clause 1 where the complainant had not said that this information was inaccurate, misleading, or distorted.

27. The Committee considered the complainant’s concern that the article had inaccurately reported the colour of the wine which had been thrown on her and the value of the barn conversion. While it recognised that the article appeared to be inaccurate on these points, it did not consider the inaccuracy to be significant, given the context of the article which described a domestic abuse incident which involved the throwing of wine, and where this remained the case regardless of the specific colour of  the wine and the value of the home in which the incident occurred. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

28. The complainant said the article was sensationalist and biased in breach of Clause 1. Clause 1 requires publications to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and to correct significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted information; it does not relate to other concerns about the presentation of material, such as that it is sensationalist or biased – such concerns do not, in and of themselves, represent breaches of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

29. The Committee considered the alleged inaccuracy relating to the job of the complainant’s ex-partner. In this instance, it decided that the alleged inaccuracy related most closely to the ex-partner, which meant this aspect of the complaint was what IPSO considers a third-party complaint, which IPSO may, but is not obliged, to consider. It noted that it was not in a position to make a finding on whether the complainant’s ex-partner’s reported job was significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted without her consent or cooperation. As the complainant was not complaining on her ex-partner’s behalf, the Committee was not able to make a finding on this aspect of the complaint.

30. The Committee noted that the article was a court report, and that publications are not required to approach individuals for comment prior to the publication of an article. In this instance, the omission of the complainant’s comment or position did not render the article significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted where the article was a court report. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

31. The images in the article had been obtained by the publication from the complainant’s Facebook account. While she said the account was private and on “lockdown”, she had accepted that her profile pictures were open to members of the public who were not her Facebook friends. The publication further supported this position by providing screenshots of the images it had used in the article showing that these images were open to the public on the complainant’s profile as profile pictures which she had uploaded. The Committee therefore considered that these images were in the public domain, and further that the images did not reveal anything private about the complainant. Rather, they simply depicted the complainant’s likeness. For this reason, the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusions

32. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

33. N/A

Date complaint received:  17/12/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  19/06/2023